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Phoenix goalie needs to rise if Slovakia is to have a shot at World Junior Championship podium

The Slovaks have to hope Samuel Hlavaj's shoulders can be awfully broad at the World Junior Championship. Any chance the team has as making noise comes down to goaltending.

Having Kazakhstan in their pool means Slovakia would have to fall apart in order to miss the quarterfinal, and given some recent results, it will be nice for them to have such a low bar to clear. Last year’s world under-18s were a disaster, as the Slovaks were relegated out of the top division by Switzerland. Unfortunately, Slovakia will rely on some of those same players at the WJC.

At the top of the list is Tampa Bay prospect Maxim Cajkovic, who has been on a rollercoaster since his breakout performance as an underager at the 2018 world under-18s. Taken first overall by QMJHL Saint John in the 2018 CHL import draft, Cajkovic struggled to adjust in the first half of last season, then came on strong in the end. The hard-shooting right winger just missed the cut for the 2019 WJC squad, so motivation will not be a problem.

Unfortunately for the Slovaks, none of the forwards who suited up in Victoria will be eligible this year as they were all 1999 birthdays. The most intriguing name up front outside of Cajkovic is left winger Martin Chromiak, a 2020 draft prospect who was taken second overall in this summer’s import draft by OHL Kingston. Chromiak spurned the Frontenacs in favor of his hometown Dukla Trencin squad, and it seems like a wise choice: the teen has spent the season playing against men and has used his deadly shot to contribute secondary offense.

In net, Slovakia has an interesting lead candidate in Samuel Hlavaj. A world junior veteran, the 6-foot-5 netminder brought a lot of raw potential to the USHL’s Lincoln Stars last season, but he got caved in behind a weak squad that finished last in the standings. This season, he took his talents to the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL and boasts some of the best statistics in the league. If Hlavaj just needed more development time, perhaps Slovakia can surprise with their newly improved netminder leading the way.

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